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Commentary: Ylvis knows game, but breaks rules with ‘What Does the Fox Say?’

October 20, 2013

seamon.17@osu.edu
A screenshot from Ylvis’ music video for ‘The Fox (What Does the Fox Say)’ which was first posted Sept. 3. Credit: Courtesy of YouTube

A screenshot from Ylvis’ music video for ‘The Fox (What Does the Fox Say)’ which was first posted Sept. 3.
Credit: Courtesy of YouTube

Not since “Old MacDonald Had A Farm” have animal sounds swept the nation, and not since the ‘70s has a hit been produced by an artist whose name has close semblance to “Elvis.”

About a year following PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” the U.S. had its yearly reminder that, in fact, you do not need to be made in America to make it in America.

Ylvis, a Norwegian comedy duo comprised of brothers Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker, released the song “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” on YouTube Sept. 3, making people LOL on first listen, then summon the song to hell following the replay.

For those living in a den, “The Fox” poses a valid question, “What does the fox say?” and then, beats the query like a dead horse until, for whatever reason, it can only communicate by Morse code.

The first verse is brought to you by Mother Goose, who has remixed a classic nursery rhyme into a quick, soulful rundown of all the animal sounds we know for certain. But then, it goes from “E-I-E-I-O” to a literal rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” where Ylvis declares the fox to be an “angel in disguise.”

And then, depending on how the afternoon is going, you might either make for certain that what you saw was real life by pressing replay or just call it a day and go to bed.

Or, if you actually decided to watch the video following that ambiguous, nonsensical description of the song that has currently reached more than 142 million views on YouTube, you will notice commenters hating on it like it was Kanye West.

YouTube commenters and some critics regard “The Fox” song’s lyricism akin to material found in a 5-year-old’s composition notebook, and others simply believe it to be the “dumbest song” ever. Either way, it is clear that a portion of the population believes this song to be a sign of our times and is extremely perplexed by the attention stupidity and bizarreness collects in 2013.

Did you know, though, that in 1950, “stupidity” and “bizarreness” also garnered public attention? Long before anyone could publish their thoughts on YouTube, a Jackson Pollock painting by the name of “Autumn Rhythm” was unveiled before the people, depicting what looked like random paint splatters across a canvas. Art critic Robert Coates described the painting as “mere unorganized explosions of random energy, and therefore meaningless,” while critic Bruno Alfieri said, “Consequently, Jackson Pollock’s pictures are very easy, easy enough for a kindergartner.”

In 2013, though, “Autumn Rhythm” is hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Of course, it is very bold to compare “The Fox” song to the work of a revolutionary artist like Pollock. It is highly unlikely Ylvis will have its own fixture in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2058, but there is something to be said for methodically breaking the rules once the game is learned.

Just like Pollock really believed in his paint splatters, Ylvis really cared about what the fox said and, along the way, pushed everybody’s buttons by breaking and manipulating every rule of a Top 40 pop song.

As mentioned earlier, Ylvis is a comedy duo. The song is meant to be a funny and almost satirical to pop music. Stripped of all the ridiculous lyrics, “The Fox” could easily be the track to an up-and-coming Katy Perry song, and Ylvis knows that. Instead, though, they took a common noun used figuratively to depict sexiness in the music industry and painted the most literal portrayal of what it means to be a fox. Even better, they sang it at a costume house party, holding a bowl of chips and gave the lyrics a serious, angsty, Oscar-worthy performance.

Better yet, the popularity of the song was as much of a surprise to Ylvis as it was to everybody else.

“(‘The Fox’) is made for a TV show and is supposed to entertain a few Norwegians for three minutes — and that’s all. It was done just a few days ago and we recently had a screening in our office. About 10 people watched — nobody laughed,” Bård Ylvisåker said to “Mother Jones” in early September.

Making appearances and performing the song on “Ellen,” “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and the “TODAY Show,” controversial or not, Ylvis has hit a nerve with their random paint splatters.

However, success is not determined by number of views, money earned or notoriety gained, but by the one who is honored the last laugh.

In this case, the real winner is the fox, who will be well represented this Halloween. According to TMZ, fox costume sales are up 40 percent from last year.


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Comments (7)

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  1. BeingThatGuy says:

    Elvis………..Costello?

  2. Carrie Justen says:

    i love

  3. Carrie Justen says:

    i love you

  4. Carrie Justen says:

    i love you.xoxoxoxoxoxox.

  5. Trey Whisenant says:

    to me

  6. Sam Hedron says:

    I thought it was an obvious and amusing song making fun of all the different ways the sounds a fox makes are portrayed in children’s stories.

    Bit much to make that well produced of a music video on such a premise maybe.

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